Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Effective Communication: A Label-less Program

Author: Kathleen Tyner

Patricia Lawrie is on a mission. A speech communications specialist in the Chaffey School District in Southern California, she designed a program which expands her role beyond working with a few "special" students to one which stresses effective communication in a cooperative, mainstreamed environment forall students. The key to the programs success has been innovative use of video as a communication medium.

Ms. Lawrie calls her office "the cave." "I was trained as a "speech therapist"and students came into my cave to correct their speech 'problem.' Most schoolshave a speech and language specialist and we want to get out of our caves intoclassrooms to work with mainstream programs, but we just aren't trained that way." For Patricia Lawrie, video was the key which got her out of the cave and into theclassroom.

"At our school, Alta Loma High School, we incorporated the notion that languagecould not be separated from speech. The first thing I discovered was thatstudents were enthusiastic about video as a communications tool. We didn't puttheir faces on the tape, just their voices and it worked! They found pictures and narrated an idea and added music. It got them involved in language."

As a communications specialist, Ms. Lawrie often sees kids who are struggling in school. These kids are categorized by many terms, "basic kids," "special ed,""at-risk students," "ESL," but on the subject of labeling kids she is adamant. "This is a label-less program. I just call them kids. This communications study program crosses all disciplinary lines, all curriculum lines. It integrates very nicely into all levels of learning, every subject. It encourages knowledge,hands-on use of technology and research of an idea. It incorporates critical thinking and works beautifully within the framework models. It is democratic."

A cooperative staff and administration moved the program along. "I developed someresources, but the most valuable resources were the teachers. I started by saying, 'You've got several of my kids. Would you like to try something new?" The teachers and Patricia Lawrie work together as a team with teachersfacilitating the learning and on-task time and Ms. Lawrie working with cooperative student groups on technical aspects, organization, sequencing, listening, "allthose things that we try to teach as speech therapists in drill and practice thatnever worked."

The first big student video project was to develop 30-second anti-drug abusepublic service spots. The spots were intended as entries in a contest sponsored by the Scott Newman Center, a foundation for the prevention of drug abuse created by Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

Even though the students did not win the contest, they learned technical skills,persuasion techniques, how commercials are made and directed to audiences. They surveyed their target audiences, came up with slogans, storyboarded their videos and got the spots cablecast all over California.

And then there was the earthquake tape. It started calmly enough. In April of1989, some Etiwanda High School teachers in the nearby city of Rancho Cucamonga thought that they needed a drill which encouraged earthquake preparedness. The teachers, Bill Behrens, Amy Tavaglione and Tim Rudolph met with Alta Loma staff Diane Ward and Carol Younger to discuss the possibility of conducting an earthquake preparedness drill. They took their idea to Marti Higgins, Emergency Operations Officer for the city of Rancho Cucamonga and the plan was set in motion. Every community agency was involved: The Sheriff's Department, Fire Department, the Red Cross, the ambulance people, area hospitals, aviation people,the schools, ham radio operators--every agency. For a year they worked on the planning of a full-blown disaster drill.

Patricia Lawrie knew how her students could contribute. "I asked if we could sendthe kids out with the cameras to get some field reporting experience." She"hunted down" seven cameras and three tripods. The students practiced for twoweeks hand-holding the cameras. Student work teams were paired at random across all traditional class divisions. The groups practiced the sequence of events and where they were supposed to be. "I didn't care what they did as long as they got the shots on the shot list. I told them: Do not pan, do not zoom and stay on manual focus." It was serendipity.

The students got their shots. They interviewed every possible person they could button hole: the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the principal, the aviation people. They shot hospital workers applying "moulage," special make-up which simulatesinjury, to students. They got in the helicopters and took off with the "victim" to the hospital, cameras rolling. The students were tired, but proud of themselves when they handed their teacher the field tapes.

"I looked at those tapes and I was just amazed. We had a full- blown disaster on tape," says Ms. Lawrie. "We had some really hot stuff there and decided that we should go beyond the exercise on field experience and put together a tape abouthow to organize a disaster simulation. It was all there." Carol Younger and Marti Higgins wrote a script and decided that they would give themselves a year or so to edit the final tape with the students. That was before the October 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Rancho Cucamonga officials called and asked if the teachers could move up the editing a bit--to December 1. Under a tight deadline, the students worked with their teacher to produce a tape on earthquake preparedness, Partners in Preparedness, which has been shown to community organizations, city agencies and high schools throughout California.

For Alta Loma High School this program has been a success. "I have never had a failure in this program. Not one kid has ever declined to participate. Teachers are amazed. Kids who have not done one thing all year are staying after school to finish their projects," says Patricia Lawrie. "The biggest complaint of businessis that when kids graduate they do not communicate well and they don't know how to work cooperatively. This program addresses both of those concerns through cooperative learning and teaching effective communication skills. And it works.Communication belongs everywhere."

Partners in Preparedness is being sold through the Chaffey School District for$25. All proceeds go toward disaster preparedness programs in the District'sarea. To obtain a VHS copy, send your check to Chaffey Unified School District,Disaster Relief Program, 511 W. 5th Street, Ontario, CA.

Kathleen Tyner is an educator and author.This article first appeared in the Spring 1990 issue of Strategies Quarterly. Reprinted permission of author.